14 Oct 2017
4 min read
Most Nepali farmers still rely on traditional agriculture methods and don't make use of the agricultural data generated by scientific research. And this despite Nepal's Ministry of Agriculture and the many NGOs and INGOs here generating volumes of agriculture-related reports and data. But all of this information--even if it reaches the farmers--is difficult to interpret and make sense of, owing to the sea of numbers and terms these reports are filled with. The data is heterogeneous and unstructured. As a result, many Nepali farmers do not make use of actionable intelligence when cultivating produce, taking the produce to the marketplace and commanding the right prices.
But GeoKRISHI could change all that. GeoKRISHI is a mobile- and web-based application that doesn't just democratise agriculture-related data, but also provides farmers with comprehensive, intelligible and location-specific database of information they can use. Because of the application's potential in the agricultural sector, GeoKRISHI recently won its founder, Rajan Bajracharya, the Global Data-Driven Farming Prize, along with an award of USD 100,000, from the US government's Feed The Future initiative. The competition had received more than 160 entries from all over the world. Thirteen entries were shortlisted, and GeoKRISHI came out on top.
What is GeoKRISHI?
GeoKRISHI was developed in March 2017 by Bajracharya, in collaboration with his technological partners Pathway Technologies and Services. The app integrates agriculture-related government data, GIS (geographic information system) data and crowd-sourced data to derive meaningful and comprehensible information from incoherent and varied data. This information, along with various tools--like a weather-forecast widget and an NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium) requirement calculator--built into the app, helps farmers make informed decisions during key cultivation stages like the planning phase, the growing phase, and the post-harvesting phase, all with the help of a smartphone. GeoKRISHI also has a web-based application, created not for farmers, but for agro-enterprises and cooperatives who work for the welfare of farmers, but are often hindered by the lack of relevant data.
GeoKRISHI has been rolled out at just the right time: as in, at a time when the smartphone has become ubiquitous in Nepal. "The number of people using smartphones in Nepal is increasing every year and internet penetration in rural Nepal has quadrupled over the last few years," says Bajracharya. "Many Nepali farmers own smartphones--which is all that's actually needed to access information that's there on the internet; but we noticed that most of them get overwhelmed by the unstructured information available online, and many of them lack the knowledge and tools to filter out irrelevant and redundant information. Through GeoKRISHI, we're trying to ensure that all the disorganised, multi-sectoral data available is made good use of. The app automatically analyses the data it is fed and presents to its users meaningful and comprehensible information."
Types of data GeoKRISHI provides
GeoKRISHI can be to the farmer what the stock indices are to a broker; the app contains every piece of data a farmer could possibly need. Furthermore, the information sourced by the app is location- and context-specific, which means a farmer, in Bardiya for example, will receive information tailored to his immediate environment. All the farmer needs to do is register on the app using his mobile number, and the app, through the phone's GPS, provides information, for example, regarding what crops he can grow in his area, in which months he can grow them, when he'll be able to harvest them, and how much money a good harvest will fetch. Farmers can also check for suitable crops that they can grow in areas they may be planning to move to. Through the app, it's possible to load up a satellite-image map of Nepal and create polygons in any area, and the app will generate a crop-suitability chart containing information about which types of crops one can grow there depending on the time of the year. The app also provides general technical information, like how much distance should be maintained between crop rows or beds during planting, the temperature the crop should be grown in, and how much pH the soil should contain (pH, for the uninitiated, is a figure for measuring the acidity or the basicity of soil. Various crops require varying levels of pH).
Because GeoKRISHI is a completely data-driven app, it needs huge amounts of data to function, and part of this data comes from Bajracharya's earlier initiative Db2Map.
What is Db2Map?
Db2Map is an online tool created by Bajracharya in February 2016. He'd been working in Nepal's development sector for many years, but he felt that because the organisations he worked for had their own agendas and focus areas, he couldn't be as innovative as he wanted. "I feel that a certain kind of environment--one without too many restrictions--is required for innovation to thrive. Working in the development sector taught me a lot and helped me network, but I felt that the milieu there wasn't conducive to innovation," he says.
Then the 2015 earthquake happened, and with it came an overwhelming demand for data of all kinds. People were scrambling for data that were necessary for relief, rescue and rehabilitation campaigns (for example, data about the number of houses and schools in the affected areas and about how many people had been affected by the earthquake). Some foreign companies even provided Nepal with free satellite images so that the damage could be assessed faster. With so much statistical and visual data available, Bajracharya decided to develop Db2Map, a free-to-use web-based map-making tool that makes it extremely easy to visualise data in map form. "A tool like this would ease much of the work that goes into data-visualisation. Additionally, a free tool would serve as an incentive for various organisations to enter their data into our database," he says.
Bajracharya then spread the word about his brainchild among various organisations that work with data. And as these organisations made use of the tool, the data they entered was being collected bit by bit in Db2Map's data bank. It wasn't just NGOs and INGOs that made use of this tool. Any individual who wanted to represent data on a map of Nepal could access this tool.
But when so many individuals make use of such an application, they're bound to enter inaccurate data at times. Bajracharya, well aware of the possibility, came up with a method to filter out inaccurate data. Through Db2Map's back end, it's possible for Bajracharya to track the people making entries, and he only works with data entered by the NGOs, INGOs and other organisations he has ties with, ensuring that all the information that makes it to his data bank is reliable. Some of the organisations that are using Db2Map are Animal Nepal, the Red Cross and the National Planning Commission.
Once Bajracharya had collected substantive, multi-sectoral data with Db2Map, he decided that it was time to narrow his focus down to one sector--agriculture--and he came up with GeoKRISHI. "I chose agriculture because, one, we had a lot of agriculture-related data, and two, because about 66 per cent of Nepal's population is engaged in agriculture, and they need data today more than ever," says Bajracharya.
The importance of data for Nepali farmers
"Most farmers in Nepal still don't make use of modern agricultural practices," says Bajracharya. "Sure, they're still producing a substantial amount of produce, but I believe that their productivity can be increased and the cost of production decreased if they employ an evidence-based approach in their decision-making process." Using his app, farmers can collect data from their immediate environment and tailor their farming-approaches accordingly. Unbeknownst to many farmers, the Department of Agriculture does release information (based on extensive research in partnership with
various organisations), say, about high-value crops that farmers should plant to generate maximum profit. "There's no point if this hard-earned data doesn't reach the end users," says Bajracharya.
Pilot-testing of the app and the work they've done
GeoKRISHI is currently being pilot-tested in Surkhet, Bardiya and Jumla. The app is being used mostly by technical assistants who advise local farmers. Farmers have been using it to improve apple and walnut yields in Jumla; ginger, turmeric, asparagus, cauliflower and tomato in Surkhet; and lentil, paddy and wheat in Bardiya. And because of how effective this app has been at providing information, technical assistants have asked the GeoKRISHI team for additional features, such as a crop-wise fertiliser calculator, to develop which the GeoKRISHI team is working closely with Helvetas. Moreover, GeoKRISHI has also collaborated with the Ministry of Agricultural Development to release crop-suitability charts for Surkhet (Figure-1). GeoKRISHI's larger goal is to set up GeoKRISHI-powered advising centres in many of the country's agricultural hubs.